″The Synapses of a Collective Brain are Growing″ | Culture | Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 27.06.2007

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"The Synapses of a Collective Brain are Growing"

According to Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly Media and a major proponent of the Web 2.0 movement, the concept of artificial intelligence will become a reality. In many ways, he says, it is already here.

Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly & Associates poses in his office in Sebastopol, Calif

Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly & Associates poses in his office in Sebastopol, Calif

Web 2.0 is a term coined by O’Reilly in 2003 to refer to the second generation of web applications. Based on collaboration and sharing among users, they include sites like Facebook and Wikipedia. O’Reilly lives and works in the small town of Sebastopol, about a two-hour drive north of San Francisco. Christina Bergmann traveled there to talk to him about his work.

Mr. O’Reilly, what exactly is Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is about applications that use the network as a platform. The first of step is to build applications that learn from their users so that the more people use them, the better they get. Web 2.0 is based on the collective intelligence of the users.

That means that a lot of users have to be involved. Does Web 2.0 represent a more democratic form of the Internet?

I think that the next technology markets will be open and democratic. There's a lot of excitement around. The hurdles we're facing aren't all that big, and everyone can take part. Over time the power of small groups of users will decrease. I think this is the phase the Internet is in now.

So we are now in the middle of Web 2.0. What comes next – Web 3.0?

The term Web 2.0 gives the impression that a Web 3.0 is coming. But I'm not sure that the next technology boom will be attached to the World Wide Web. We still think primarily about interacting with a computer as typing on a keyboard and looking at a screen. But increasingly computers are fading into the background.

There are lots of different ways in which computing interfaces are changing. First of all there is the use of handheld devices or cell phones as a platform.

Think about how cameras are increasingly being equipped with GPS. Now, when you take a photograph, the location of that photograph will automatically be a part of the data uploaded to a Web 2.0 application like Flickr. All of a sudden the global brain is learning something that we did not actually explicitly tell it.

That means that something will be created by this community?

Yes, but people won't know they're doing it. We're heading in the direction of artificial intelligence. Of course there is still a person telling the program what to do. We're putting more and more information into the global network, and people are writing programs that create even more connections. It is as though the synapses of a collective brain are growing. I think we should expect some surprises.

But if people aren't aware of what is happening to their data, doesn’t that create a conflict with their right to privacy?

I think a lot of concerns about privacy will come up in the further development of Web 2.0. But I think it's really important to understand that people are willing to trade privacy for perceived benefit. I also think that the net gets a bit of a bad rap with regards to privacy. When you use a credit card, for example, you're revealing all kinds of very private information about yourself. People don't make a big fuss about that.

Are we looking at two societies – one that has access to the Internet and one that remains locked out?

With time I think that more people will have access to these technologies. The Internet will become more present – that means it will be accessible via telephone but also from different devices.

We think there are a billion computers out there. But really there is only one. That is what Web 2.0 is about – getting stitched together. And what we think of as a computer today – a stand-alone device – is just an access point to the global electronic brain that we're building.

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